Summary: Nation-building in Africa was hobbled by the inheritance of centralised, authoritarian ‘states’ prior to the consolidation of nations within them. Armed liberation
movements overcame this to some degree by constructing common identities out of
the struggle to throw off foreign rule.
Yet the degree and kind of control inherent in such a militarised project fuelled despotism in the post-war state. Eritrea seemed to break this mould, with its high level of popular participation in its war effort, its engagement in social transformation during the fighting, and the participatory constitution-building process that followed its victory.
Yet less than a decade on, the liberation front shut down the press, jailed its critics, and turned the country into a political prison.
This article will situate this reversal within the transition from colony to independent state, explore its specific characteristics, and consider the prospects for a more democratic outcome.
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